The present of a friend

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been adopting nieces and nephews and handing them books. There are some books that are always on the gift list: Fox in Socks, the Ramona books. Edward Eager. And some I pick out especially for the particular kid. I had great success last Christmas with the first Shelby Holmes, a Sherlock Holmes update (he requested the entire series for his birthday in May–yay!). And then there are the books that I want to be very careful with, just because they are so special to me.

For many years, I had a plethora of nephews and no nieces. About five and a half years ago, my best friend told me she was expecting her second baby. And then she paused. “And it’s a girl.” There was excessive squealing. I could hear her rolling her eyes over the phone. She knew what was coming.

The first time I held S, her mom leaned over me and said “One day, she is going to introduce you to Anne of Green Gables and Betsy-Tasty, and I won’t be able to stop her.” Yes, my best friend calls the Betsy-Tacy books Betsy-Tasty to annoy me. And yes, she was totally right about my plotting.

And then, just two months later, another dear friend had her first baby, and it was a girl. (she’s one of those crazy people that didn’t find out the gender ahead of time.) Suddenly, I had two nieces to properly corrupt!

Because the Betsy-Tacy books open with Betsy’s 5th birthday, I always knew that I would give each girl the book for her 5th birthday. And honestly, if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, that’s all I would have done. But one night, a few months ago, I was hanging out with D. We had already been talking about the challenges of a pandemic birthday, especially when you’re little and just don’t understand what’s going on in the world. She later mentioned that S had convinced her big brother to have a tea party with her–to the extent that he even put on one of her many princess dresses. And that’s when it hit me–a tea party for the birthday! And to introduce one of my favorite books. How could any little girl not like a book when it’s connected with an excessive amount of sugar? And for my long-distance friend, surely I could figure out a way to do a tea party in a box.


So, I sent S a formal invitation (on a Betsy-Tacy notecard, of course) to come over for tea. I told her that we would dress up and wear hats and she could decide who else in her family could come. One Sunday afternoon, the entire family came over, everyone dressed according to S’s instructions. We picked out some hats from my collection.



We had too many sweets, including some of the best scones ever (a recipe from a Betsy-Tacy friend). I hoped to read the first two chapters to S, but she requested watching Animaniacs, and that’s pretty important too. Due to the pandemic, shipping of her book was delayed, but when it arrived, I took it to her and we read the first two chapters before bed. Bonus was that big brother joined us and read some of it to us.



Last week, we had the long distance tea party with L. She was almost as excited as S, even though we weren’t in person. I sent a box with a pretty floral tea cup, tea, scones, chocolate cookies, the book, and a postcard of the author at age 5. We chatted and ate, and I read the first two chapters. She apparently got up at 6:30 that morning asking if it was time for tea yet. I think it was a long day for her mother.


One of my favorite lines in literature is in that second chapter: “But the nicest present she received was not the usual kind of present. It was the present of a friend. It was Tacy.” With all the emotions swirling around right now, I did a pretty good job of not choking up on that line. More than anything else, these books are about friendship–and why wouldn’t I share them with the daughters of two of my dearest friends?


Doesn’t she look just a little bit like Betsy?

Will these books be a lifelong love for these girls? Too soon to tell. But it was such fun to share it with them and do something really special in the midst of all this craziness. I know we created some really special memories. Apparently, both girls have been talking about the tea parties rather incessantly. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I doubt I would have done all that. But truthfully, I needed the project and the distraction and the fun too. Who doesn’t want an excuse to eat clotted cream and tiny sandwiches?

There are many different kinds of legacies. Some are passed through direct family ties. And some are passed through friends that become family. If one of my legacies is a love of books, any books, that’s enough. So, even if they don’t fall in love with Betsy and Tacy, I hope they realize the special connection books can create between friends of all ages.


In the mean time, I’ll just start planning the Anne of Green Gables tea now. Maybe for their eighth birthday?


Kindred Spirits

A few weeks ago, a friend said to me:

“I just got an ice cream maker.  So I’m thinking about having a party where we watch Anne of Green Gables and then break into the ice cream at the same time Anne tastes ice cream for the first time.  What do you think?”

I’ll give you one guess to figure out what I said.

Yes, you’re right.  I was thrilled!  Best party idea ever!

I should say a few words about this friend.  I have this tendency to categorize my friends, and she falls in the “museum friend” category–another educator at a history museum.  When she first moved to Texas, she called me up and said “I need a mentor.”  Or something like that.  I still find that incredibly ironic because a)she’s older than me and has lots more experience and b)I’ve probably learned more from her than she’s ever learned from me.  We quickly became good colleagues and have shared many a drink as we discussed various museum educator quandries.

But I didn’t realize our shared love of Anne until I invited her to a housewarming at my last apartment.  From my trip to PEI, I have a wonderful watercolor of Green Gables.  It’s like a secret password–to most folks, it’s just an old house.  A picture of an old house makes sense in the home of someone that has been working in historic house museums for years.  But to those that are kindred spirits, well, it’s GREEN GABLES!!  At any rate, when she saw that picture she squealed “Green Gables!!”  And then I learned that she dragged her husband to PEI for their honeymoon.  That may have been the moment that our friendship went to a new level.

So, her party thrilled me for a couple of reasons.  Chief among them was my ability to say to another friend (who was invited but didn’t come): “See, it’s not just me!  I’m not the only person you know who has this crazy love of Anne!” (this other friend thinks that I’m making my Betsy-Tacy friends up. . .)   It has also been years since I’ve watched the movie.  And finally, it gave me an excuse to make raspberry cordial again.

I would classify raspberry cordial as one of those iconic literary foods.  When you hear the name, well, don’t you just automatically think of Anne?  And how often do you hear about raspberry cordial and Anne isn’t referenced somehow?  I made the recipe from Kate MacDonald’s cookbook, which means it was a non-alcoholic cordial.  Just raspberry cordial is a bit much, so we added some Sprite and man, it was tasty.  As was the ice cream!  Isn’t the cordial pretty?  Please excuse the containers–I did not want a raspberry interior in my car. . .

Watching any movie with friends is a bit different than watching a movie alone.  I honestly have no idea how long it’s been since I’ve watched Anne from start to finish.  This time around, I really noticed the humor.  Montgomery had this sharp, ironic edge to her pen.  Of course, Anne’s dramatic flair can get a little tiring, but I’m still amazed at how much dialog was lifted straight from the books.

And though the scene where Matthew died didn’t make me cry, the scene where Anne tells Marilla that she’s staying in Avonlea and giving up college for the time being did make me tear up.  Some members of the party will insist that I started crying much earlier in the movie.  This is not true–my eyes were tearing up from a combination of allergies and laughter.  Not the fact that Marilla finally said that Anne could stay.

But it was so good to watch and laugh and enjoy that movie with friends.  And ice cream and raspberry cordial.  There are lots of other folks gathering to watch a literary movie tonight as well, a movie that will likely make a few more dollars than Anne ever did.  Still, even though we may always be frustrated at what the movies mess up, there’s something magical about watching a decent movie based on a book you love.  Reading can be such a solitary experience, but watching a movie doesn’t have to be.  I know the standard line for readers is that “a movie is never as good as the book.”  My personal attitude is: as long as people won’t be horribly confused if they pick up the book after watching the movie, I’m good.  As long as any plot changes still make sense with the character’s personality, I’m good.

So yes, I can live with Anne of Avonlea, but we will not speak of the third Anne movie. 

And sometime in the next week, I’ll totally be in a movie theater, bawling my eyes out at the last Harry Potter movie.

Secrets Revealed

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic StoriesIt’s not often that I read a cookbook straight through, but after dipping in to The Little House Cookbook, I knew this was one that I had to read.  It has been out for a very, very long time (1979), and I have a very dim recollection of checking it out at the library when I was a kid.  But I had never gotten around to purchasing it for my library.  After reading it cover to cover, I’m thrilled to add it to my kidlit history shelves!

From a historical perspective, Walker does a wonderful job of talking about the challenges of cooking in the 19th century.  She talks about the shift from hearth to stove.  How to preserve foods.  What could be purchased from a store–and how exciting it was when new products were born.  It’s stuff we try to explain to visitors at the museum on a regular basis, and her introduction to these complex stories is superb.

And from a kidlit perspective–this book is pure magic!  These books spend a lot of time on food.  Quick–how many Little House foods can you name?  I’ll wait.

See?  A lot, right?  I think it is physically impossible to read Farmer Boy and not raid the kitchen.  There are so many wonderful things to think about: fried apples n’ onions, vanity cakes, green pumpkin pie, doughnuts, even something as simple as popcorn just sounds better after reading about it.  And this cookbook has all these recipes and more.  Of course, Laura didn’t include recipes for everything, and Walker’s research skills really show here as well.  She hunted through period cookbooks and tested and tested again to make these recipes possible for modern cooks.  Granted, there are several recipes I have no interest in trying (roasting a whole pig?  umm, no), but the fact that even those recipes were included makes this book extra special.

The Anne of Green Gables TreasuryMy delight in reading this book reminded me of a treasured book from my childhood.  Back in 1991, Carloyn  Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson published The Anne of Green Gables Treasury.  Picture this: nerdy, 12 year old Melissa on the phone with a friend who also loves Anne.  We’re thumbing through our respective copies together, squealing and giddy.  Finally, we have the answers to so many questions!  A map of Avonlea!  The floor plan to Green Gables!  A tea time menu, complete with recipes for Monkey Face Cookies (which are wonderful!) and Plum Puffs (also quite good)!  Explanations of the clothes!  Oh, it was really, really exciting.

Collins and Eriksson have gone on to publish more Treasuries, including books on The Secret Garden, Little Women, and of course, Little House.  They are all quite good, but in my mind, none of them have had the magic that the Anne treasury did.  Suddenly, almost all of my questions were answered.  It was like these authors had uncovered these secrets that L. M. Montgomery had left buried in the books.

Books like these certainly aren’t for everyone.  A lot of readers may not want to go beyond the page.  But for those that do, I thank people like Barbara Walker, Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson.  They’ve brought me a lot of joy as a reader–and certainly helped grow my love of history.


By Northern standards, the weather we’ve had this last week is Not Much.  By Dallas standards?  Well, life as we know it stopped this week.

On Monday night, a giant ice storm hit.  And the temperature hasn’t made it past 25 since.  Last night, the forecasters said there was a 30% chance of a light dusting of snow.  This is what my backyard looks like right now:

As one friend put it: “light dusting my@#*!”  At any rate,  I didn’t get much sleep last night, and late this morning, I decided that I might as well take a nap.  I mean, what else is there to do?  The house is clean.  I’ve been catching up on the DVR and reading.  Sleep was a way to kill some time (have I mentioned that I haven’t left the house since Monday?).

I had one of those absolutely incredible naps, in which you completely pass out.  And along with it was an incredibly vivid dream.  I came into the living room.  My roomie was on the couch.  I said “Why don’t we make some maple-sugar-on-snow candy?”  And she said “Sure!” And then we went out on the patio and poured maple syrup on the snow.

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic StoriesThen I woke up and started seriously thinking about recreating the scene from Little House in the Big Woods.  I knew we had maple syrup in the house, but I wondered if they didn’t do something else to the syrup before pouring it on the snow.  Conveniently, last May, I had bought a copy of The Little House Cookbook at the museum in Mansfield.  I had never had a chance to really look at it, so after lunch, I plucked it from the cookbook shelf and looked up “maple-sugar-on-snow.”  Sure enough, there was a recipe!  But it was for molasses.  Not the same!  And involved boiling molasses and brown sugar, which didn’t sound very yummy to me at all.

So I put the dream aside, but I kept reading the book.  I have some other literary cookbooks, but this has got to be one of the best.  Walker brilliantly sets the context for what cooking during Laura’s lifetime was like–plenty of information about the technology changes, food preservation issues, and all that.  And a wee bit of wondering if the intense focus on food in the Little House book isn’t perhaps a direct result of the hunger Laura so frequently faced as a child.

I haven’t finished the book yet, and at this point, there aren’t any recipes I really want to try.  But for a fan of the books, this is a must read.

Are there any foods from Little House that you’ve dreamed about?  Any things you’ve always wanted to try?  Any experiments worth sharing?

The dark side of fame, food and t-shirts

Some days seem to have recurring themes.  Today’s theme: children’s literature!

I have one of those page a day calendars on my desk at work.  After being out a few days, I was making it current and ran across this quote:

“Oh, I wish that God had not given me what I prayed for!  It was not so good as I thought.”  –Johanna Spyri, author of Heidi.

Yikes!  What happened to her personal life after her career took off?  Did too many people come knocking on her door?  Was there too much pressure to continue Heidi’s story?  A quick glance at wikipedia gives me no clues, and I’m thinking I may have to do some investigating into Spyri’s life (unless one of you knows!).  And reread Heidi for the first time in 20 years.

My roommate, being the fabulous person she is, sent me this New York Times article, “Little House in the Hood,” all about food in the Little House books.  What makes this article a bit different is that it’s a dad figuring out his son’s fascination with Little House.  He gains new respect for Wilder’s book simply because of the food descriptions.  And who are we to argue with that?  Vanity cakes, fried apples and onions, bird’s nest pudding, green pumpkin pudding.  Sigh.  Friend Wendy has even tried to eat like she’s in the Little House books.

I’ve been meaning to write an entire post about food, and one day I will.  But today is not that day.  But as a placeholder, what are some of your favorite foods from kidlit history?  As a kid, I was all about raspberry cordial and monkey face cookies and pickled limes.  Have you made anything inspired by a book?  Did it live up to your expectations?

Finally, the roommate also sent me a link to this website, featuring t-shirts of book covers.  Alas, none feature children’s books, but it’s still worth sharing.